One of the founding myths of brexit was that at the last minute, the EU would crack and give the UK everything it wanted. Instead the opposite seems to be happening. Boris & Mogg, having derided May’s deal as “worse than remain”, “a betrayal of leave voters” or that it would turn the UK into “a vassal state of the EU” voted for her bill last time ….which probably had something to do with her offering to resign (which just goes to show their motivations have always been selfish opportunism).
May meanwhile, apparently troubled by the risk of the UK breaking up in the event of a no deal, seems to be trying to prevent it (at last!) by offering indicative votes (which she previously whipped her MP’s against), considering a long extension, holding EU elections and opening talks with the spawn of satan the leader of the opposition comrade general Jeremy Corbyn.
Now granted, these talks are unlikely to go anywhere, clearly the goal is to ensure labour shares the blame for whatever follows (be it no brexit, hard brexit or a long delay). And while Corbyn wants brexit to go ahead, he can’t be seen to support it. Allowing enough of his MP’s to “rebel” on key votes (e.g. stopping a peoples vote or even his preferred option a customs union) is one thing. But openly backing brexit would split his party, or force him to go along with what was agreed at conference, which was that if they can’t get an election labour backs a people’s vote (with remain on the ballot paper). And we can’t have that now can we (as remain would almost certainly win and Corbyn would have to hide in the woodshed again for 6 months).
And MP’s, aware that May is just winging it and Corbyn ain’t going to do diddly squat have panicked and are now desperately trying to get their own bill through parliament that will legally force the PM to request a long delay. Of course brexiters in the lords (where remain holds majority support) are trying to frustrate it and filibuster, complaining, with no hint of irony, of “the tyranny of the majority”. Okay, so forcing a hard brexit that nobody voted for (only about 37% of the electorate voted leave, closer to 25% when we account for those who weren’t allowed to vote and support for May’s deal is as low as 6%), without any sort of consultation either with the opposition or remainers is implementing “the will of the people”. But a majority of parliament voting for something, that probably isn’t far off the majority opinion of people in the UK (delay brexit to avoid a no deal) is a tyranny. Asking the people to vote twice on something is undemocratic, but asking MP’s to vote on the same bill 3, or maybe even 4 times is okay thought. Conservative logic, don’t ever try to understand it.
But anyway, my point is, its all too little too late. May’s deal is basically dead, even if it goes through it might now be subject to legal challenges (as its questionable she’s followed parliamentary procedure). Any agreement Corbyn reaches with May will be meaningless, the withdrawal agreement can’t be changed at such short notice and the political declaration isn’t legally binding. May’s replacement could simply renege on anything signed. Pushing a bill through to stop no deal at this late stage has no real teeth (that would require a nuclear option to force the revocation of article 50 on the 11th of April if all else fails), it can be delayed for long enough to be meaningless.
And the EU has to agree to any extension. And May has asked for an extension, which the EU has previously turned down for solid legal reasons. If brexit is delayed until June 30th and the UK doesn’t hold elections for MEP’s, then what happens if the UK needs a further extension? After the EU’s elections, there will be nobody in a position of authority in Brussels to offer such a thing until mid July at the earliest. What if the UK were to revoke article 50 on the 29th of June and thus plunge the EU into a constitutional crisis? So no, its either a no deal brexit at the end of the week, passing May’s deal and then leaving on the 22nd of May. Or coming to the EU on the 10th of April with a solid plan, which would probably have to include participating in European elections and either a general election or referendum (or both). Pick one of three options. My guess? An accidental no deal is the most likely outcome.
What I’d argue has been laid bare here, is not how dysfunctional the EU is, but how broken the UK parliamentary system is (and I don’t just mean the roof!). To those who say brexit broke the UK parliamentary system, actually I’d argue it was broken all along, its just they’ve been very good at papering over the cracks until now.
They claim that the EU is undemocratic, when it is painfully obvious that it is the UK government that is undemocratic. The UK’s FptP system means an MP can be elected with just 25% of constituency votes. And a party can get a majority of seats with just 35% of all the votes (so about 25% of all voters once turn out is accounted for). Hell even Hitler had a stronger democratic mandate than many recent UK governments. And many stand in safe seats where losing is nearly impossible. Hence why several of Corbyn’s lackies (and several Tories) in seats that voted strongly remain, can back brexit and not have to worry about any blow back.
And of course nearly all of the real power in parliament lies with the PM, the leader of the opposition and (to a lesser extent) the speaker. Three MP’s, elected by a perhaps 30,000 votes each can basically overrule the votes of the remaining 50 million voters…and all three are among the safest of safe seats in the country (so its questionable if even their constituents have much of a choice!).
They claim that the EU is out of touch, yet it is clear that it is MP’s who are out of touch. While they squabble and play their games of thrones, the country is gradually descending into recession and despair. And its also painfully obvious that MP’s are utterly clueless not only as to how the EU works, but how their own parliamentary system works. Hence we have the PM trying to submit bills multiple times and having to be told no, you can do that. Or how every week the ERG quotes out of context some clause in EU or WTO rules, only to get smacked down by legal experts. Or on the remain side, an inability to properly organise a consensus around an alternative to the PM’s plans. And now they’ve probably left it too late to do anything, because IT TAKES TIME TO PASS A BILL! If they were serious about stopping no deal, they should have initiated this process back in December when May first delayed the first meaningful vote. Now its just pissing in the wind.
Of course the difference between the UK and either the EU or the national governments of many EU states is that, unlike the UK, they all have written constitutions. These documents lay out in clear detail what MP’s (or MEP’s) can do, what they can’t do, what are the limits of state authority, what is the position of the courts in all of this, when there should be a people’s vote, etc. And given that most elected officials across Europe are elected via proportional representation, this more or less forces them to work together. Consensus politics is the norm.
By contrast in the UK, its more normal for one party to govern, the other to vote against everything and whinge to the tabloids how the government is pandering to the EU and wrecking Britain. Then when the roles reverse, they spend half their time trying to unpick what the last lot did, while the other side nit pick and whinge to the tabloids that the government is pander to the EU and wrecking Britain.
So remain or leave, if there’s anything we’ve learnt from the brexit process began its that we need to take a leaf out of Guy Fawkes book. And I don’t mean getting rid of the building (that said its falling apart and would probably make sense to just demolish and rebuild it), I mean the UK’s system of government is fundamentally flawed. It needs to be completely torn down and replaced at every level.
A written constitution (which presumably will require a referendum to alter), proportional representation, a reformed judiciary, the elimination of numerous hereditary property rights, breaking the class system (which sees a disproportionate number of CEO’s and MP’s coming from a handful of public schools), replace the house of lords with a democratically elected upper house, changes to a massively unfair social welfare system (that doles out cash to wealthy pensioners without means testing, but drives genuinely poor people to food banks or forces them to sleep in doorways while their benefits are means tested).
I’d argue that if you want to waste 20 years of parliamentary time on something (and that’s about how long brexit and the post-brexit negotiations are going to take), leave the EU alone and focus on this project instead.